NPOTA: ARRL’s Best Idea?

The National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) is off and running. Making contact with a handful of stations currently operating from NPOTA locations has made me wonder if the ARRL has had a good idea with NPOTA as a way to help celebrate the anniversary of the National Park Service.

From ARRL: “Throughout 2016, Amateur Radio will be helping the National Park Service celebrate their 100th anniversary. Hams from across the country will activate NPS units, promote the National Park Service and showcase Amateur Radio to the public.”

I am a huge fan of both the National Parks and the National Park Service. Anyone who is interested in the history of our National Parks would be well rewarded to start with the Ken Burns documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Yellowstone generally gets credit for being the first National Park back in 1872. However, the National Park Service was not established until 1916. That period in between provides us a very good reason that there are times when we need a government organization to protect us from ourselves. During that in between period, the Army was given the mission of attempting to protect both Yellowstone and Yosemite. Like most missions the Army received, they were underfunded, under equipped, and undermanned. They did, however, do the best they could to protect these amazing areas. Many Americans saw these new National Parks as areas for economic exploitation. If it wasn’t for many individuals working long and hard for the establishment of the National Park Service, it is very likely we would not be able to enjoy the parks we have today. Stephen Mather and Horace Albright were the two primary individuals who secured the establishment of the National Park Service. Ken Burns talks about these two individuals in his documentary and there are also a few books that do a great job telling the story (Creating the National Park Service: The Missing Years and The Birth of the National Park Service: The Founding Years, 1913-33).

Yosemite: President Theodore Roosevelt, left, poses with John Muir for pictures on Overhanging Rock at the top of Glacier Point, near which the men camped in a hollow and awoke to five inches of snow in 1903.

The National Parks exist for our enjoyment. Generally that enjoyment manifests itself in some type of hiking, camping, fishing, watching for wildlife, or learning about history. This interaction between Park and citizen can be passionate, emotional, revitalizing, inspirational, and an educational experience.

With all that being said, I was a bit surprised to hear stations making contacts for NPOTA locations like it was a contest. Each NPOTA location is identified by a letter-number combination. No discussion of where they actually were. No description, no discussion. It is a bit sad to see there is a Leader Board – which only facilitates looking at NPOTA as a contest rather than an actual celebration.

I also wonder how these activations are impacting those non-amateur radio enthusiasts who are visiting a NPOTA site. Is this putting amateur radio in the best light?

Are these NPOTA activations promoting the National Park Service or showcasing Amateur Radio to the public?

If so, how?

What would Stephen Mather and Horace Albright think about NPOTA?

It will be interesting to see how NPOTA progresses over the coming weeks and months.

Scott Hedberg, NØZB, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Kansas, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

2 Responses to “NPOTA: ARRL’s Best Idea?”

  • Mike KG9DW:

    Hey Scott, I too was surprised to find this to be more of a contest than being run like special event station. I was hoping for something more relaxed. Instead, looks like this will be a lot like the ARRL 100 year celebration.

  • Chuck AF4O:

    “Like it was a contest”. You make a valid point and operating with WN8Y at Shiloh NMP I did try to randomly announce the location as well as the designator. And also tried to mention that we were at the point where the battle began.

    But, its not easy to go into a history lesson while the pileup sounds like a hornets nest (no pun intended to the hornets nest at Shiloh) and stations screaming at you for a contact. So its all to easy to slip into a contest like mode under those conditions. Evidentially we were getting spotted on the DX cluster as neither of us even had a smart phone.

    Maybe as the year goes on the pileups will subside. The pileups were fun though :-). I/We plan on activating Shiloh often so will make up some short historical bullet points and laminate to interject. Maybe the idea will catch on.

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